Ernest Walter 80th Anniversary of D-Day

With commemorative events for the 80th Anniversary of D-Day underway I’m reminded of Wednesday 6th June 1984, 40 years ago, when I was struggling to complete the fine cut of my NFTS graduation film and had spent most of the morning with editing tutor Ernest Walter (1919-1999).

With credits including many major feature films (such as Superman, Nicholas and Alexander, 10 Rillington Place) he was giving me the benefit of his years of editing knowledge to help make the best of my film.

After an hour or so working at the steenbeck Ernie suggested we break and invited me to join him and Tony Gurrin, then NFTS Head of Sound, for a lunchtime pint. As we sipped our drinks in the local pub the television was showing live footage of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan saluting rows of veterans and their families on the Normandy beaches. Then the commentary took us back to the day itself and the programme cut to World War II footage. Ernie glanced up and nodded to Tony –           ‘That’s one of mine – and that one’ – as we watched those emblematic scenes of soldiers clambering out of the landing craft and running up the beaches. Gradually it dawned on me that I was sitting in the pub with a D-Day hero.

Ernie’s career in movies had begun as a twenty-four-year old soldier in the Army Film and Photography Unit. On D-Day he was assigned to the Canadian commandos and was one of the first to land on Sword Beach near St-Aubin-sur-Mer. Shooting with a wind-up camera rather than a rifle, running and crawling up the beach, clutching his waterproof bag with ten canisters each with 100 foot of film, he captured images that tell a story of bravery in battle and the terrifying reality of war. Sitting in that pub I was speechless in awe of his story. He was self-deprecating, wise, with a wry sense of humour. I’m still in awe of him – what I learned from his comments on my film, and more importantly what I learned from his career achievements, from combat cameraman, to Hollywood editor, to inspirational tutor. A couple of years later he recorded an Oral History Interview talking about his experiences for the Imperial War Museum which can be accessed online.

Alistair Scott 6/6/2024